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    Metro review

    By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 1, 2001


    Some highlights of the news from around the region for the week just ended.

    * * *

    Toxic toads return with summer rain

    PALM HARBOR -- From the "If it's not one thing, it's another" department, veterinarians report that the much-needed rain has brought with it a resurgence of the giant and toxic Bufo marinus toad.

    Wildlife experts say the toad is nothing to take lightly -- especially for pet owners.

    It releases a toxic, milky secretion strong enough to sicken or kill a dog or cat that bites or licks it. A dog that ingests the toxin often will die within an hour if not treated.

    photo
    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    The old master: Sunset Sam, the painting dolphin, works Wednesday at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on a new creation: a fiberglass turtle. The turtle is one of about 150 to be displayed around Tampa Bay as part of a charity fundraiser.
    Along with profuse, frothy drooling, symptoms of toad poisoning include vigorous head shaking, pawing at the mouth and continuous attempts to vomit, lack of coordination, and staggering.

    The brown or grayish brown amphibians grow to be 4 to 91/4 inches long and can weigh more than 3 pounds. They are active mostly at night, and they will eat almost anything, including insects, small animals, dog or cat foodleft outside and food scraps from the garbage.

    Stadium costs give cities sticker shock

    CLEARWATER -- If you think it costs a lot to take a family of four to a ballgame, try building a stadium on a budget.

    City leaders in Dunedin and Clearwater were suffering sticker shock this week as the costs started rolling in -- and up -- for construction and upkeep of their spring training stadiums.

    Clearwater is facing a $300,000 bill to shore up deteriorated sections of Jack Russell Stadium so the spring training complex of the Philadelphia Phillies can last another few years.

    The city and the Phillies have agreed to build a new stadium that will cost at least $22.7-million. But in the meantime, problems at the 46-year-old stadium became obvious May 30 when a concrete floor plank in one of the lower seating sections fell 10 feet to the ground.

    And in Dunedin, six months after the Toronto Blue Jays signed a $12-million deal to keep the team from moving, the city has discovered it does not have enough money to complete the job that was promised.

    City officials estimate the project will cost between $300,000 and $400,000 more than was budgeted. Blame unplanned construction costs, said Commissioner Cecil Englebert.

    "It's one of those things where we thought the $12-million was going to be plenty, and not getting full details on cost was our problem more than anything else."

    Teacher continues to fight molestation charge

    BROOKSVILLE -- The Hernando County school district has spent 4 1/2 years dealing with a teacher accused of molestation and misconduct, and the case doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.

    Joseph Gatti, who won convincingly the last time he was in court three years ago, must return to defend himself again to the Education Department in front of an administrative law judge, probably this fall.

    Gatti faces familiar allegations that he had inappropriate sexual contact with two male students and that he showed students pornographic pictures from the Internet.

    But he must also answer to charges that his relationship was inappropriate because he gave the boys money and bought them gifts.

    Three years ago, the School Board asked administrative law Judge Suzanne F. Hood to help decide whether Gatti did anything that would result in his firing. Considering basically the same charges he faces now, Hood found that Gatti engaged in no sex acts.

    After conducting its own investigation, the Education Department says it's possible there will be new testimony, witnesses and evidence this time.

    Desalination plant moves closer to reality

    TAMPA -- Tampa Bay moved a step closer to having its first desalination plant Tuesday when Hillsborough County commissioners dropped a challenge to the permit that will enable its construction.

    In return, commissioners will get an insurance policy valued at $26-million to $30-million to cover any future environmental damage caused by salty discharge from the plant in south Hillsborough County.

    Construction begins next month on the plant, which is expected to provide up to 25-million gallons a day of drinking water by December 2002.

    Next up: plant No. 2 near the Pinellas-Pasco border, possibly in the vicinity of the Florida Power's Anclote plant.

    Job candidate's perk list gives council pause

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- City Council members, now down to their No. 3 candidate for city manager, called his demands comical, ludicrous, absurd, hilarious and insulting.

    "I stopped reading halfway through," Mayor Ron Kitchen said.

    But not before he noticed city manager candidate Charles "Tony" Hammond was seeking, among other things, a country club membership, unlimited personal use of a cell phone, an $800 per month housing stipend and a new car.

    Hammond backed off some of the demands after speaking to council members, but the 52-year-old town manager in North Topsail Beach, N.C., said he stood firm with major points of the contract, including a $70,000 salary with a 5 percent raise after the first year.

    Like the two previous candidates who turned down the job, Hammond said he sought a strong contract because of the high turnover in the position. The city has had seven managers since 1990.

    Sheriff's decision to dissolve domestic unit ignites protests

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Sheriff Bob White's decision to dissolve his agency's domestic violence unit drew criticism and protesters last a week.

    The protesters, most of them members of the Pasco County chapter of the National Organization for Women, stood outside the West Pasco Government Center on Tuesday morning.

    Under the new plan, the unit's sergeant and three specially trained detectives have been folded into the agency's major crimes division. Several road patrol deputies will be given more training in domestic violence, which means that eventually, at least one deputy on each shift will have expertise, sheriff's officials said.

    "I think there's a misconception out there that the sheriff isn't going to be diligent about domestic violence," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. "(But) there's going to be more resources available to investigate all kinds of crimes."

    Coming up this week

    St. Petersburg Junior College finds out exactly what is in a name starting this week. The school officially drops the word "junior" from its title this month. Administrators are still trying to carry out the task, since Junior is on everything from stationery to T-shirts. And in Sarasota, New College will sever its longstanding ties with the University of South Florida, though its future is uncertain. The Legislature voted this spring to separate the 650-student liberal arts school from USF, but college administrators were stunned two weeks ago when Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the $1.2-million appropriation that was supposed to pay for the change.

    With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday, travelers can expect less congested roadways July 4, AAA estimates. But it's not all good news: Drivers can expect to pay an average $1.60 per gallon of gas, 8 cents higher than this time last summer, but 44.8 cents above July 1999 prices.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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